Welcome changes on cell towers

Aug. 30, 2013 @ 05:52 PM

A draft of new rules for cellphone towers that city/county planners will run by elected officials next week shows great promise. The changes would not affect unconcealed towers, but instead those that attempt to blend into the surrounding area.
Much of it reflects common sense as cell towers continue to sprout around the area. Cellphone towers are, of course, important to consumers seeking greater coverage areas and better service.
But for neighbors, the addition of cell tower is not always a welcome one, especially if there aren’t governances placed on details such as appearance and height. Just ask members of St. Barbara Greek Orthodox Church of N.C. 751 and people who live near the church. Sprint got permission from local government to put in a “concealed” or “stealth” tower (one that is designed to, at least theoretically, to look like a tree).
Under the existing rules, Sprint received the approval for the tower without a public hearing.
The Sprint tower’s “concealment” would have a hard time fooling anyone into believing it’s naturally part of the local landscape. At 120 feet, it dwarfs vegetation around it.
The rules address many of the problems that are emblematic with this particular tower and the process it went through. Neighbors should be able to weigh in on something that stands out so obviously in their community. It hasn’t come up in the discussion surrounding the Sprint tower, but in other communities, the issue of impact on property values as entered the debate.
The proposed rules would call for a public hearing on any concealed tower that is within 300 feet of a scenic byway. This is a fair change, and serves neighborhoods far better than the existing policy.
Staff members did a nice job balancing more residential concerns with corporate concerns about expediting the process. Under the revisions, a public hearing would not be necessary for camouflaged towers that are under 60 feet or that’s on a tract of land zoned for business or institutional uses that is not near homes.
The other changes to policy that planners are suggesting make sense, as well. Towers designed to look like trees (“monopine” towers) would need to be placed in existing groups of trees covering at least 500 square feet. These towers could stand no more than 20 feet above the tallest tree in the group.
And they actually have to resemble trees, according to the language in the draft.
The Joint City/County Planning Committee will hear about the proposal on Wednesday. We think the planners are on the right track; we hope they agree.